A coworker and I were chatting about attending ALA Annual recently and his description of the last one he attended (Vegas, 2014) caught me off guard. He talked about going to presentations and getting to see Stan Lee. I thought about Vegas and could only remember walking through casinos trying to find meeting rooms.
I tried to remember when last my ALA attendance didn’t feel like nothing but mandatory meetings, spliced with cramming in some f2f time with a handful of peers I don’t get to see elsewhere and who I won’t see again for a year.
For several years I’ve described ALA Annual and Midwinter as working conferences. These are not conferences where I go to recharge and learn — that’s RDAP or Midwest Data Librarians, etc. ALA Conferences are spent leading or attending or planning meetings, coordinating with other chairs or board or staff, attempting to sort out current barriers, and some focused division networking. And I’m by no means alone. The LITA Board has at least 6 more hours of meetings than I usually attend–often also coming in another day early. I had to attend both board meetings once but not for the full 3 hours each. I know the LITA President (& VP & Past-Pres) have significantly more. And those on ALA Council seem to lose very large chunks of time.
Last summer, in San Francisco, I realized at the end of the conference that I’d never managed to set foot in the exhibit hall. This was partially driven by a gubernatorial executive order that makes picking up a pencil or post it notes forbidden* and also partially due to the odd layout that meant all of my meetings were in the West building–which was a block away. But it speaks to the single-minded devotion asked of volunteers and further to the potential burnout we are engendering.
I was doing rough math just now and if you figure that ALA has ~24 hours of meeting time Sat-Mon mostly 9-5– being a chair means committing to 33-50% of your available time to just LITA meetings. This seriously limits the number of sessions I can even consider attending and that comes before scheduling time for lunch, unexpected or serendipitous meetings, final preparations or winding down from meetings, or hiding by myself to recuperate for a few minutes.**
I’ve considered a run for LITA Board.*** Having been chair of two committees now, I’m interested in shifting focus to the larger issues and furthering the work of the division. But one deterrent is the knowledge that I’d be facing another 3 years of biannual meetings where my entire purpose would be to attend working meetings. After 5 years of that already (with a couple of skipped Midwinters in there), that’s a particular issue for me. In the immediate moment, I’m put off by the prospect of committing that much time, effort, and my own money towards it. And I am one of the fortunate ones: currently I get some money each year I can put towards attendance and travel costs and I’m not required to take vacation time to attend.
Thinking about this makes me even more grateful for the people who are doing it–my Board, my VP, my President and past Presidents, and those who will run next spring and have done this work in the past but also makes me frustrated.
I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to be a Chair and the work I’ve gotten to do. There are incredibly dear friends and fantastic colleagues that I have become closer to as we’ve worked towards our collective goal of improving our division and the professional lives of our peers. And I anticipate that in a couple of years, my interest may swing around again and the idea of all of those meetings will not be as daunting as it is today.
But I find that I’d like to share my volunteering around a little more in the near future. I would like to give my time to maybe something for knitting, something in my community, etc. Dentistry keeps trying to get me further engaged with ADEA.
And I’d like to go more ALA sessions to see what people are doing and come away recharged and having gotten to meet more new colleagues in addition to strengthening relationships with annual/bi-annual see-you-at-the-next-conference colleagues.
The Chair hat transitions in 7 more months and then we shall see. In the interim, I’m putting together my Midwinter calendar.
**And a minimum of 1-2 hours trying to acquire sufficient quantities of caffeine
***Candidates are selected by the LITA Nominating Committee and they contact and invite potential candidates but I don’t think I remember anything from my year that said we could take self-nominations for consideration. It doesn’t guarantee you a slot on the ballet but expressing interest doesn’t hurt.